Sibilance, onomatopoeia, drawing a fine if sometimes smeared line between the serrated and the silken-all figure into Big Gurl, the equally earthy and avant-garde sophomore effort from the Darius Jones Trio. Sparked by the sonically unpredictable alto saxophone of New York-based composer Jones, this tight-knit group knows its way around free-form jazz, funk, even metal-check how drummer Jason Nazary evokes John Bonham on “Ol’ Metal-Faced Bastard.” Still, this music swings on a foundation built of the blues, with Jones’ smears and mild vibrato underlining its vocal quality. The material is worked as much as it’s played; Jones doesn’t let go of a tune until he’s wrung all he can from it.
While some of this is tough listening, “A Train” (Jones’ extension of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train”) is relatively easy, and “My Special D” and “Michele ‘Heart’ Willie” are leisurely, almost homespun. Bassist Adam Lane bows deep on “D,” and his countermelody on “Michele,” a sprawling beauty of a tune, lends gravity to Jones’ lyricism. Jones says this sequel to Man’ish Boy, his evocation of early childhood in rural Virginia, aims to document his intellectual awakening at college in Richmond. It’s intellectually stimulating, but it’s anything but academic.
Jones can keen, weep, caress-and cut, too. The appealing unruliness to his music coexists with authority. And no matter how abrasive he becomes-parts of “Chasing the Ghost” and “E-Gaze” are defiantly in your face-he convinces. Did I mention skronk and squeal, skirl and squawk, rhythmic splatter and startling sonority? This warm CD sobs and challenges.